Source: Sunday Times, June 7th 2009
Orphaned elephants caught in the middle.
A standoff between a gold mining company and a herd of orphan elephants at a wildlife sanctuary has landed up in court and prompted an international outcry. Conservationists are trying to stop the Maranda Mining Company from scaring animals by blasting for gold inside the San Wild Wildlife Sanctuary in Limpopo.
But the mine company says its workers are the ones at risk – of being trampled by a herd of problem elephants it claims were illegally relocated to the reserve.
Each side accuses the other of operating illegally. At the heart of the row is a herd of orphan jumbos that have been shunted around several times since the herd was first targeted for culling in the Kruger National Park in the early 1990s.
After the cull, several orphans were relocated to the Thukela Biosphere Reserve near Weenen in the KwaZulu-Natal, but a land claim in 2006 meant the herd had to be moved again – this time to San Wild near Tzaneen, where they live among animals including lions, leopards, buffalos, rhinos, wild dogs, warthogs and giraffes.
Gold mining is due to begin this year, which San Wild claims could spell disaster not only for the elephants but for the entire sanctuary, which is internationally renowned and receives funding from the Brigitte Bardot Foundation. San Wild directors Louise Joubert said: “We have fought tooth and nail to get one of the largest animal sanctuaries in the world established in South Africa. It has been blood, sweat and tears. You cannot expect me to sit by and let a company come in and destroy our ecotourism operation, which we are working very hard to build up.”
She said an open-cast mine in the middle of the reserve would deter visitors, while regular blasting would more then likely prompt animals to move to adjoining farms. But Maranda Mining, which operated mining rights to the property from the previous landowner, says in addition to unpredictable commodity prices it now had to worry about interference from wild animals. Co-director Michael Bryant claimed San Wild was not an officially registered wildlife sanctuary and lacked the necessary permits. Bryant said: “Of one of those elephants had to break out there for whatever reason and go and tramp on somebody (there) is going to be big trouble. Number one (the elephants) aren’t supposed to be there, number two (San Wild) fences are not up to scratch.”
The standoff has already gone one round in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, where Maranda Mining last year one won an urgent order allowing them access to the property. The order was upheld on appeal. Now San Wild is lodging an objection with the Department of Minerals and Energy against Marandas Mining permit and is bringing a high court action to compel the department to respond.
Joubert, who says San Wild has all the permits it needs, said: “The writing is on the wall that more and more responsibility for conservation will become that of the private sector as the needs of humans place a growing demand on government resources.”
Maranda Mining said the rumpus was jeopardising its business. The company, which employs about 200 people, said that the mined area would take up less then 2ha of the approximately 6 000ha reserve. Additional prospecting activities would be limited to an adjoining 20ha area, the company said, “Basically we were here first,” said Bryant, who lashed out at Joubert for her “aggressive” approach. He said the farm in question, called Zonderwater, was unsuitable for wildlife ranching, but compromise might be possible is Joubert was willing to negotiate.
He said mining and conservation were not necessary mutually exclusive, as evidenced by Maranda Mining’s operations in two other reserve areas in the province. Rock blasting was not a death-knell for conservation , Bryant said: “Blasting is like thunder, thunder is also basically created by lightning, which is air exploding with a heavy electrical charge. The animals look around, nobody drops. Basically they are not that stupid. Its not just a bang and they run away,” Bryant said.
The standoff drew comment from international animal welfare expert Michael Kennedy of the Humane Society International in Australia – one of the San Wild’s major donations. “HSI is making its concern known for the SA authorities, and will inform our colleague conservation organizations around the world of the sanctuary’s plight,” Kennedy said.
Source: Sunday Times, June 7th 2009